.orgCommunity has been engaging association leaders in a series of discussions regarding the evolution of associations and the need for innovation.  Emerging—and as yet unseen—disrupters will require significant changes in the nature of associations, how they envision fulfilling their missions and serve their constituencies. In some industries we already have seen complete transitions due to technological innovations. Blockbuster’s brick and mortar business for renting DVDs has completely disappeared as Netflix led the revolution to DVDs by mail and then streaming content. Other industries—such as transportation—are still very much in flux. It is safe to predict that self-driving vehicles eventually will be the predominant mode of transportation. But the full impact of on-demand transportation services, self-driving vehicles and drone-based package delivery systems is yet to be determined. The pace of implementing transportation innovations also remains undetermined given the complexity of the cultural, legal and infrastructure changes that accompany the new technological capabilities. So for now, successful automobile manufacturers must face imperatives for innovation using a dual strategy: stay in the present and build vehicles drivers want now, while also investing in a future without those drivers at the wheel. Functions Most Likely to be Disrupted, Require Innovation Similarly, associations must be innovative while also maintaining their ability to meet the needs of current members attuned to past models. With that in mind, .orgCommunity asked association leaders to rank seven areas according to which would be most impacted in the next 3-5 years by outside disruptive forces and therefore require innovative responses in their strategies and operations. The seven areas ranged from a broad-based concept such as “business models” to specific products like “conferences” and “publishing.”  As indicated below, respondents clearly felt that overall business models were most likely to be impacted and require significant innovation.

Education and membership, which can be considered subsets of an association’s overall business model, also ranked high. However, conferences were seen as less likely to be impacted over the next several years. This suggests that associations may be looking back with one eye to extend the traditional strength of conferences, while also keeping the other eye on the future in terms of redesigning education and membership models.  Framework for Addressing Disrupters While there obviously is no single solution for associations, the comments of the leaders queried by .orgCommunity suggest an overall framework for positioning an organization for a future characterized by multiple external disrupters:

  1. Develop new and collaborative business models in core areas:
    • Education
    • Community building and membership
    • Career development
  1. Adopt new ways of doing things:
    • Strategic thinking throughout the organization
    • Efficient, timely decision making
    • Entrepreneurship and acceptable risk taking
  1. Invest in cultivating new resources for the future:
    • People
    • Financial resources
    • Technology

What do you see as the most significant disrupters facing associations over the next several years? How are they impacting you current planning and future strategies? We invite you to share with your colleagues by commenting on this blog.

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